Is it correct to say "I feel painful" to mean "I feel pain"?

Please note that I mean only those cases, in which the phrase is a complete sentence. There should be no words after the last word in each quote (like in "I feel painful pulses in my head", "I feel painful burning sensations in my stomach", etc.)

If it's correct, what is the slight difference in meaning there?

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    ~brilliant, I changed meaning to to mean. Also, it really is incorrect to have a period in those quotes, but I retained them due to the way you phrased your question. Without the periods, both would still be taken as full sentences. They would only be considered as parts of a bigger sentence if followed by ellipses: "I feel painful...", "I feel pain..."
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 9, 2011 at 23:53
  • @Jimi Oke: "it really is incorrect to have a period in those quotes" - Why is it incorrect?
    – brilliant
    Mar 9, 2011 at 23:55
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    Because the final period within a pair of quotes terminates the entire sentence. If not, the quoted text should terminate with a comma. Thus, your title should be: (with comma overload) Is it correct to say, "I feel painful," to mean, "I feel pain"? or (without comma overload) Is it correct to say "I feel painful" to mean "I feel pain"? And you could always explain the specific usage within the body of question, e.g. no words after the last word in each quote, and so on.
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 10, 2011 at 0:04
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    @brilliant: You're welcome. Here are a couple links: Purdue OWL, Quotation Marks. In American English, the comma and period always goes within the quotation marks, regardless of logic. In British English, however, this is not the case. More on that here. Also, for consistency's sake, as per my previous comment, I think you should just remove the comma after "I feel painful,"
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 10, 2011 at 5:23
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    @brilliant: As for AAT's No, it is not correct English to say "I feel painful.", strictly speaking, there ought to be a comma after say. Otherwise, the punctuation is perfectly correct, as the period terminates the entire sentence. A British/International English writer, however, may be inclined to place the period after the quotation mark, not before, as in: No, it is not correct English to say "I feel painful". But I doubt such a writer would if they placed a comma after say: No, it is not correct English to say, "I feel painful."
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 10, 2011 at 5:33

4 Answers 4


No, it is not correct English to say "I feel painful."

You can say "I feel pain", or "I am in pain", because 'pain' is a noun, but "painful" is an adjective so you would need to use it qualify something else (as in your "I feel painful sensations" example).

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    @AAT: Thank you for your answer. You have confirmed my suspicions. "... but "painful" is an adjective so you would need to use..." - Is having an adjective really a valid basis for deeming "I am <adjective>." phrases as wrong? Look: "I feel happy", "I feel sick", "I feel hungry" - as far as I know, all these phrases are correct, but they all contain adjectives.
    – brilliant
    Mar 10, 2011 at 0:20
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    @brilliant: The reason painful is wrong is not because it is an adjective, but because of the meaning of painful. Something that is painful is the cause of pain: a painful injury, a painful memory, a painful needle, but not a "painful person" or "painful dog" (to mean that they have pain).
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 10, 2011 at 0:35
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    @brilliant: It's just not true though. "I feel hopeful" = fine. "I feel joyful" = fine. Thankful, playful, merciful, forgetful... also fine.
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 10, 2011 at 2:18
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    @brilliant: What is the purpose of making a "rule" like that? There is no syntactic restriction that makes "I feel painful" wrong. It is just wrong because of the meaning of painful; it sounds like you are saying that you feel like you cause pain. If there is any rule at play here, it is: "use the word that means the thing you want it to mean".
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 10, 2011 at 14:05
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    @Kosmonaut: (3) "If there is any rule at play here, it is: "use the word that means the thing you want it to mean" - If I try to follow this logic I may get into the same trap again: I know that to say "My painful arm" is correct and that that would mean "My arm feels pain", thus, I would think, since it's okay to say "I feel pain" (meaning that it is me who is feeling pain), then it must also be okay to say "I feel painful", and the meaning (as I would think) would still be the same as in case with "painful arm".
    – brilliant
    Mar 10, 2011 at 14:33

If you feel pain you hurt. When, say, getting over a case of the flu one might say "I hurt all over." If you sprain your ankle you'd say "my ankle hurts".


I apologize in advance for

AAT is right; Grammatically, the phrase "I feel painful" is incorrect. You cannot use an adjective as a modifier for feel. However, it is perfectly acceptable to, instead of using the qualifier AAT suggested ("I feel painful sensations"), you may also opt to use an object: I feel pain.

So your options are as follows (using I feel __ as the template):

  • use a noun to qualify the adjective painful (I feel painful bites)
  • use a noun as a direct object to enhance the verb feel (I feel pain)
  • use an adverb to enhance the verb feel (I feel painfully sick)

Editorial note: When a sentence gets cloudy like this (it's bound to happen, ESPECIALLY in English), your best bet is to try to find a suitable synonym, preferably one that is interchangeable and not cluttered with subtle connotations. (instead of uncomfortable to express pain, perhaps excruciating will do instead) Worst case scenario, you're better off rebuilding the whole sentence. It happens.

Hope this helps

  • @ Rant: No, you and ATT are incorrect. There is nothing grammatically wrong with putting an adjective after feel when, as here, it's used as a linking verb. The adjective would modify the subject, not the verb. (You cannot use an adjective or an adverb to modify a linking verb.) And the adjective can even end in -ful, as in "I feel wonderful." The problem with painful is purely semantic.
    – Yeltommo
    Jun 14, 2021 at 10:14

Only Hot Lick's is correct.

We can say: I feel happy.
I feel excited.

However, we cannot say: I feel happiness.
I feel excitement.

The experience was painful. It means, the experience caused pain to you.

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    I can absolutely say "I feel happiness" or "I feel excitement".
    – gnasher729
    Oct 13, 2016 at 13:10
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    Of course you can say "I feel happiness", you hear it said all the time.
    – Chenmunka
    Oct 13, 2016 at 13:37

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